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Energy Drinks and Alcohol: A Dangerous Combination

04 Nov Posted by in Tweet Posts | Comments

Energy Drinks and Alcohol: A Dangerous Combination

Energy drinks continue to increase in popularity on high school and college campuses because of the stimulant effects from the caffeine. What consumers may not be paying attention to is the amount of caffeine in some of the products.


While a regular cup of coffee contains roughly 100 mg of caffeine, energy drinks may contain two to three times as much caffeine as in a regular cup of coffee. Compounding the problem is that consumers may not realize that many of the larger containers hold two to three servings.


Last, many of the heavily marketed energy drinks do not even list the amount of caffeine on the nutritional labels. Consumers need to research the amount of caffeine in the individual products on their own.


So why do athletes like the effects of caffeine? Does caffeine really provide an energy boost as promised in the marketing campaigns?


Although caffeine does provide a stimulant effect to the central nervous system, caffeine does not actually provide new energy for the person consuming it. The caffeine works by causing an artificial stress response triggering the release of stored chemicals in the body that give our bodies energy (ACSM, 2010).


The negative effect of caffeine on athletes is the diuretic effect. Athletes working in hot or humid environments or competing in endurance events may exacerbate the development of dehydration (Robergs, R.A., & Roberts, S.O., 2000). Dehydration at any level can negatively affect an athlete’s performance.




Physiological Effects of Alcohol

The danger with combining caffeine and alcohol is that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol can have a number of negative effects on psychomotor skills including impairing the following:


*reaction time

*hand-eye coordination



*complex coordination

*body temperature regulation


Combining Energy Drinks and Alcohol

The problem of combining these two drugs is that the individual may still experience all of the psychomotor impairments of alcohol, but feel alert due to the effects of the caffeine stimulant. This is a very dangerous combination. The end result is a “drunk” who does not perceive himself as impaired.


Unfortunately, according to research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 57th Annual Meeting in Baltimore, more than one-third of the NCAA athletes in the study at major Division-I universities reported mixing alcohol and energy drinks (ACSM, 2010).


Energy-Binge Drinking Can be Fatal

Another dangerous practice of NCAA athletes was reported in this same study. The incidence of “energy-binge” drinking episodes (i.e., drinking three or more energy drinks on one occasion) was also reported as a common practice with almost 25% of the athletes surveyed participating in energy-binge drinking (ACSM, 2010).


Some of the side effects of acute caffeine toxicity include:


1)hyperventilation (rapid breathing)

2)tachycardia (rapid heart rate)

3)hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)

At high enough doses, caffeine can be toxic and may actually be fatal. The lethal dose has been estimated to be between 150 and 200 mg/kg of body weight (Antonio, J., & Stout, J.R., 2001). Athletes at all levels need to be educated as to the physiological effects of both caffeine and alcohol as well as the dangers of combining the two drugs. Understanding the combined effects of the drugs may help athletes make a better choice.


Dr. Prateek Gupta
D.Orth.(London), F.R.C.S – Orth(London),
Consultant Orthopedics & Sports Surgeon.
Sir Gangaram Hospital, Delhi

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